It turns out that tourists would rather see sharks in the water than in their bowls, as a new study shows that rising shark eco-tourism could overtake the declining global fin trade in the next two decades.
Researchers from the University of British Columbia, the University of Hawaii and Universidad Autónoma de Baja California Sur in Mexico examined shark fisheries and shark ecotourism data from 70 sites in 45 countries.
The study, published in Oryx -- The International Journal of Conservation, shows that shark ecotourism currently generates more than $314 million annually worldwide and is expected to more than double to $780 million over the next 20 years.
“The emerging shark tourism industry attracts nearly 600,000 shark watchers annually, directly supporting 10,000 jobs,” said Andres Cisneros-Montemayor, a PhD candidate with UBC’s Fisheries Economics Research Unit and lead author of the study.
Researchers found the landed value of global shark fisheries is currently $630 million. An estimated 38 million sharks were killed in 2009 to feed the global fin trade alone. Despite the shark trade still being lucrative, the authors note the fisheries have been in decline for the past decade.
"Sharks are slow to mature and produce few offspring," said Rashid Sumaila, senior author and director of UBC’s Fisheries Centre.
Shark tourism in the Caribbean generates almost $124 million annually, supporting more than 5,000 jobs. In Australia and New Zealand, 29,000 shark watchers generated almost $40 million per year.
"It is abundantly clear that leaving sharks in the ocean is worth much more than putting them on the menu," Cisneros-Montemayor said.